Monthly Archives: December 2012

Selfish, Self-Centered, or Selfless

I came to realize something about myself and about Christmas this week.

First about me, I realized I’m often a pretty self-centered guy.  Not selfish, but self-centered.  What’s the difference?  Imagine if my wife came home after working all day and I said to her, “Oh I’m glad you’re home.  I’m starving what’s for supper?”  That would be selfish.  If instead she came home and I said, “I know you’ve had a long day, I have supper ready.”  But after we’ve eaten she says, “I’m so tired, would you mind if I just had a bath and went to bed?”  Me being the unselfish husband that I am, I would say “sure, that’s fine.”   But on the inside I’m feeling unappreciated.  I’m thinking “After all I did for her I don’t get so much as a thank-you or a kiss and now I’ve got to do the dishes too!?”  That is self-centered and we are all like that, in every one of our relationships.

Selfishness is obvious because we see it on the outside, but self-centeredness is about motives; what compels me to do what I do.  Like what I get out of it, or how people respond to me.  It’s about how I am perceived by other, whether they like, admire, or respect me.  Or how I feel about myself; I like to think I’m a pretty good person.  Maybe it’s just guilt and/or responsibility.

Nobody likes a selfish person, but being self-centered actually looks pretty good from the outside. A self-centered person is often helpful, hard-working, generous, thoughtful and so on.  But God looks on the inside, and from that perspective a self-centered person looks no different than a selfish person.  I was appalled at what God revealed inside me.

What struck me in the story of Christmas was God acted selflessly when Jesus, born as a baby, became human.  Jesus’ nature is purely self-giving.  In fact the whole nature of the Trinity is about selflessly serving each other in the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit.  We all are unable to act purely selflessly because at our core our nature is completely self-centered.

But through his birth, death and resurrection Jesus offers to replace your nature with his.  At the core of a Christ follower is the selfless nature of Jesus.  As you celebrate Christmas, ask God to show you the motives that drive you.  Come to his manger surrendered and humbled.  That is when his nature will be given liberty to live selflessly through you.

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Wait “Up”

Don’t you just hate waiting?  I don’t think I know anybody who likes to wait.  Some do it better than others but, for the most part, I don’t think anyone actually enjoys it.  For me waiting in lines is the worst.  The average American (sorry, I don’t have Canadian stats) spends between two and three years of their lives waiting in line.  When I heard that I decided that if possible I wouldn’t stand in lines, even if it means being last.  People think I’m really polite but I just don’t want to stand in line.

But if you think waiting in line is bad, consider this: according to one study, we spend seventeen percent of our lives waiting in general.  Whether that be in lines, or on hold, or for your wife to get ready (now that I think of it, it may be somewhat more than 17% for men).  But seventeen percent!  If a person were to live 80 years that would be more than thirteen and a half years of our life spent waiting.

Considering how long we spend waiting you would think that we would be pretty good at it, but it seems like the more we have to wait the worse we get at it.  Watch someone who has been forced to wait.  The responses will range from impatient fretting and sighing and foot tapping, to reading an outdated article about topics we don’t really care about, to the vacant stares of those who have given up.

The Bible speaks a lot about waiting.  The most famous is probably Isaiah 40:13 that says those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength.  The waiting spoken of in the Bible is different than the way in which we typically wait.  Larry Crabb calls it passionate patience.  It is an eager expectation, waiting with a purpose; to know Jesus better, and to have his nature more fully formed within me and therefore expressed through me after I am finished waiting.

It is a valuable thing to set aside time each day to wait on God.  I prefer early mornings before anyone else is up, but for others another time may work best.  But we can also wait on God during the times we are forced to wait for others.  You should thank me.  I just found you thirteen more years that you can spend consciously in the presence of God.


Exploring The Depths

Some years ago at a pastor’s retreat I won flights for two to Barbados.  Wendy and I were able to spend about three weeks down there.  Yes I know; rough life as a pastor.  What a wonderful place, but the best part of the trip for me was snorkelling. For at least three hours most days I was diving in that crystal clear water.

The spot I went most often was an old reef of about 10 acres in size.  The coral, though dead or dying, was a maze of channels and small underwater ravines ranging in depth from six or seven feet to well over twenty feet.  Discovering all manner of fish and sea creatures, while exploring the nooks and crannies and crevasses held almost endless fascination for me.

Wendy doesn’t really share my passion for exploration.  For her the best thing about the trip was sitting on the beach, reading a good book, and occasionally going into the ocean to float for a while and cool off; a wonderfully relaxing time.

She did put the mask on one day so she could see what I was so fascinated with.  What she saw almost took her breath away, which isn’t necessarily a good thing if your face is under water.  There all around her, right where she was standing were dozens and dozens of small fish with flashing, brilliant colors and a spectacular variation in shapes and sizes.  She was astounded that that she had been completely unaware of the richness of beauty and diversity that was right there around her.

For many of us, our relationship with God is much like that.  We’re in the water, maybe even fully wet.  We know and have experienced the ocean that is God’s nature and character, but we’re largely unaware of the richness and wonder that is available for us to experience with God.

May I suggest an exercise to help explore these depths?  Go to 1 John 4:16 and find the part of that verse that says God is love.  Now stop and, to begin with, spend at least five minutes just focusing on that phrase (likely you will discover much more eventually becomes necessary).  Roll it over in your mind; listen for God to communicate the depths and richness of that truth to your heart and soul and mind.  If it helps, broaden your focus to verse 15 and the rest of verse 16 but no more.

This is what the Psalmist called meditation.